Millions of people worldwide are experiencing a gambling disorder. Like all behavioral addictions, it only affects a small fraction of people who participate in games of chance, with most gamblers able to gamble from time to time casually, without a pathological response.
There is help available in the form of counseling and even medication, but there isn’t a simple solution to overcome a gambling disorder. And, because of the negative stigma associated with pathological gaming, many sufferers are reluctant to admit they have a problem.
What Is a Gambling Disorder?
A gambling disorder is a compulsive behavior that leads people to gamble excessively and often uncontrollably. Gambling involves risk-taking and excitement, which makes it appealing to certain people. When the addiction takes control, it can drive the gambler to the point of financial ruin.
If you spend increasing amounts of time on gambling, or you know you’re overspending, it may be a good idea to seek help immediately by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537).
As with other addictive behaviors, gambling addictions can be difficult to acknowledge and resolve. That is why it’s recommended that you seek the help of a mental health professional.
Recognizing the Signs of a Gambling Addiction
If you suspect that you or a family member has a gambling addiction, there are a few signs that are common among people struggling with the disorder. Check for the following symptoms:
- You’re spending more time, or your loved one spends more time, gambling. This may be at a casino or online.
- You or a family member is neglecting responsibilities. This includes missing work, canceling plans, or forgetting some of your obligations.
- You or a loved one is spending more money than planned on gambling.
- Your (or your loved one’s) gambling losses are negatively impacting your ability to purchase daily essentials.
If you notice your family member has developed any of the above habits, speak to a mental health professional for advice. The first step is to acknowledge the problem, and a professional counselor can help you approach family member about their own addiction.
They will give recommendations, for instance, if you are confronting a family member, you don’t want to sound judgmental. Your goal is to express concern and see how you can help and support them.
Tips for Helping a Family Member or Yourself
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, you may be wondering where to seek help or what to do. The following ideas may be of assistance:
- Once you admit there is a problem, it is easier to take the steps to change. Admit to yourself ,or help your family member acknowledge the trauma or emotional strain that gambling has caused.
- If gambling has led to financial hardship, or you’ve depleted your savings, or even turned to theft, start attending a 12-Step support group to get the guidance of others who are recovering from a gambling disorder. This might mean turning your budget over to someone you trust, cutting up credit cards, and keeping only enough money around for small purchases.
- You should also close gambling accounts online and completely stay away from places like casinos or racetracks that tempt you to gamble.
- When you feel the urge to gamble, take a moment to think about what is leading you to feel that way. Have a planned activity that will distract you.
Getting Help of the Behavioral Health System
Don’t just go it alone, whether you’re trying to help yourself or a friend. In the behavioral health field, we have more tools than ever before to help those who are struggling with a gambling disorder.
The treatments used to stop gambling are like therapies used for other addictions. Programs usually include support group activities and counseling. A doctor may also prescribe medicines to curb cravings or to reduce feelings of depression or anxiety.
Getting Help of the 12-Step Recovery Community
Reach out to the Gamblers Anonymous support group to attend one of their free meetings. Participants in Gamblers Anonymous (“GA”) meetings will dedicate their time to helping you, because it helps their own recovery. If you also have substance abuse issues, that is quite common, and these recovering participants will help you address your substance abuse issues as well.
Gambling addictions can be difficult to overcome, but now is a better time than ever before to seek help. If you’re currently struggling with the problem, call the hotline mentioned above and/or attend one of the 12-Step GA meetings. Don’t put off seeking assistance. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will be in recovery.